soap boxes and moving boxes

Former United Church Moderator Clarke MacDonald used to stand on a soap box in a Toronto park and “preach” the Gospel. It wasn’t like what you might imagine, he wasn’t a fire and brimstone preacher and the message was not about the sin of the world. Rather Clarke was calling on those with ears to hear to live the Gospel, to be disciples of Jesus. There is no doubt that MacDonald got this idea from a similar practice carried out at a park in London, England. The idea was that the Gospel message needed to be heard outside the walls of the church, the Gospel was for everyone.

All of us from time to time climb up on a soap box to tell the world, or at least those who will listen to us, how to live. More often than not the not so subtle message we are sharing is “live like us”. That is appropriate in some fashion, after all we all learn from our life experiences and we all want others to gain from our experience. But we can wear out our welcome, get “preachy”, when we repeat the same drum beat of “you should do it like me”. Not only is it self-righteous in tone and lacking humility it is boring, repetitive and downright annoying to hear the same message over and over and over.

Recently I would plead guilty to this practice. I find myself pushing the minimalist message a lot lately and I fear I am losing support for this important message more than making converts. I know where this is coming from, I visit people in their homes and hear the stress of what they shall do with all the contents of their apartment, their home, their office. There is a willful blindness to the reality that this did not happen “to them”, they did it to themselves. Whether it was “keeping up with the Joneses” or “materialism” or “taking comfort in things” or “not letting go” of those who have died and thus keeping their stuff somehow keeps them alive to us, the result is the same. We are overwhelmed with “stuff”.

I want desperately to prevent this from happening, to spare people the stress and pain that comes at the end of this saga. But all I appear to be doing is making people feel guilty and ashamed. I need to rethink how I share this important message.

I think one possible way forward is to think about this issue as “soap boxes vs. moving boxes”. I think there is a difference between diving in to this discussion where the issue has not been raised. In such cases my own self-righteousness is not attractive or welcomed. I heard someone yesterday tell me he was disappointed in his friend because this friend was still grieving his wife’s death from many years ago. The man I was speaking to had dealt with his own grief and moved on. He could not figure out why others could not do likewise. As I heard him I felt convicted of my own self-righteousness. I was doing the same with the pack-rat, clutter, issue. Ouch!

Still, I think when people come to me with their stress and pain around decluttering their homes and work spaces that in fact does open to me the possibility of sharing the good news I have learned, that stuff does not equal love or acceptance or comfort. I am not abandoning the cause, only the manner of my “preaching”. When I see or hear the moving box I can stand to the side of my soap box. But if there is no moving box, no issue to be dealt with, then standing on a soap box only makes me a jerk.

It was a good day of learning yesterday.